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Free things to do in New York City


Welcome, you savvy traveller you, to the city that never fails to deliver the magic – New York City! In this insightful NYC travel guide, we’re about to gift you with a treasure trove of cost-free experiences and adventures that will elevate your journey through the Big Apple without breaking the bank. If you’re ready to unlock the secrets of budget-friendly adventures and free things to do in New York – you’ve landed in the perfect spot!

Nestled on the eastern coast of the United States, New York City beckons travellers time and time again with its magnetic charm, bustling streets and boundless possibilities. Whether you’re a solo backpacker passing through, on a family trip seeking affordable fun, or a curious soul eager to explore the big city without financial constraints, New York City offers it all.

New York is notorious for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. After all, it is a hub of upmarket restaurants, designer shopping and extravagant hotels. But having interned there for a year while being paid a very modest wage, it’s safe to say I got to know a very different (although equally as amazing IMO!) side of New York than is portrayed in movies and Sex And The City.

Beyond New York City’s dazzling Broadway shows, lies a city teeming with free attractions, hidden gems, and cultural delights waiting to be uncovered. You don’t have to spend a lot to adventure in New York and you’ll soon see that for yourself in this list of free things to do in New York City.

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1. The Brooklyn Bridge

Let’s be honest – when you go to New York, you want to feel like the main character in your own NYC movie. And the best place to do that is the Brooklyn Bridge.

When it comes to the Manhattan skyline, the views from the Brooklyn Bridge are unmatched. When I first moved there, I had my big “I made it” moment on the bridge and it’s a core memory I’ll never forget.

In New York, it’s not unusual to spend upwards of $50 for viewing platforms like The Top Of The Rock. Although those are fantastic and worth doing if it’s in your budget, one of the best views of New York is free from the Brooklyn Bridge. You can see everything, from The Statue Of Liberty to the One World Trade Centre. 

Not to mention it’s a great photo-op! One of the free things to do in New York City? I think so!

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2. Explore New York City’s Parks

Despite being known as a concrete jungle, there’s no shortage of beautiful parks in New York City so exploring them is up there with the free things to do in New York City.

Central Park

Certainly the most iconic park in the city, Central Park is a must-see for your visit to New York. It’s not just any old park – there is so much to see, from the ‘Imagine’ mosaic marking the spot where John Lennon was killed to the famous Bethesda fountain. 

There are also seasonal activities to enjoy depending on the time of year you visit, like rowing boats and Shakespeare In The Park shows in the spring and summer months and ice skating in the winter.

It’s also packed full of filming locations from all your favourite NYC-based movies and TV shows – but more on that a little later!

Bryant Park

Just a few blocks away from Times Square, Bryant Park has always got something going on that’s worth checking out. In the Summer months, you can look forward to live performances as part of the Bryant Park Picnic Performances, a free outdoor festival that features Broadway performers, opera singers and everything in between.

And in the winter, you’ve got the Winter Village where you’ll find market stalls with delicious foods, gifts and trinkets and an ice skating rink (also free if you bring your skates!)

Washington Square Park

If you like your day at the park to come with a little entertainment, Washington Square Park is the place to be. It’s a hub of activity, particularly in the summer months. You can expect live music, artists in action, and even career chess players, making this the perfect spot for people-watching.

This is another park that’s rich with history and is known for the arch at its centre which honours George Washington.

3. Free Museum Days

A lot of New York museums have adopted a ‘pay what you wish’ policy, which makes them pretty affordable most of the time. But did you know that on certain days admission is free? Cue, free things to do in New York City.

American Folk Art Museum: Always free, but it’s recommended that you make a reservation.

The Jewish Museum: Free on Saturdays and some Jewish Holidays.

The Morgan Library and Museum: Free on Fridays between 5-7 pm.

Whitney Museum Of American Art: Free 5 pm-10 pm on Fridays.

4. The Staten Island Ferry

If you’re planning a trip to New York, I bet you’ve got The Statue Of Liberty on your list of things you’d like to see. So, you’ve got a few options:

You can pay for a trip to Liberty Island or book one of the Liberty Cruises, which can cost anything from around $20.

Or you can be a super savvy traveller and hop onto the Staten Island Ferry which passes right by The Statue Of Liberty and costs a total of $0.

The ferry runs 24 hours per day, 7 days a week every 15-30 minutes, making it a quick, easy and wallet-friendly way to catch a glimpse of Lady Liberty!

Travel tip:

Top tip: try to catch the ferry at sunset for the most spectacular views.

5. The High Line

Though The High Line is technically another park, this one’s a little different to the ones just mentioned. It’s a linear park built on a historic elevated railway line.

Not only can you catch some amazing views from there, but The High Line also has an abundance of gorgeous greenery and interesting art to see as you walk along – you can even catch a live performance if you’re lucky.

The High Line can be found right off The Chelsea Market and makes the perfect peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

6. See The Sights From Movies

One thing that New York City isn’t short of is famous movie and TV locations, and there are plenty that you can check out for free!

The Hook and Ladder Company 8 FireHouse from Ghostbusters

Carrie Bradshaw’s Apartment from Sex And The City

The Plaza Hotel from Home Alone 2 

The Met Steps and Grand Central Station from Gossip Girl

The Friends’ Apartment Building

Katz’s Deli from When Harry Met Sally

The Tiffany And Co. Jewellery Store from Breakfast at Tiffany’s

If you love movies, this is one of the best free things to do in New York City.!

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7. Explore DUMBO neighbourhood

There’s one big mistake that a lot of travellers make when they visit New York: they only stick to Manhattan! There are plenty of great things to see and do in Brooklyn, which is just a stone’s throw away from Manhattan, and one of the coolest neighbourhoods to explore is DUMBO, which stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass.

It’s certainly one of the most Instagrammable spots in New York and in my opinion one of the best free things to do in New York City. You’ll even find a man-made beach with the perfect view of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan.

DUMBO is the perfect place to grab a coffee and explore while you take in the stunning view.

8. Visit Times Square

It may be busy and a little bit of a tourist trap, but can you say you’ve visited New York if you didn’t see Times Square?

It’s chaotic, busy and maybe even a little overwhelming but it’s iconic and SO much fun, especially for your first visit. You have to experience the spectacle of it at least once! It’s another New York location that feels like it’s straight from a movie.

It’s full of things to do from famous American chain restaurants to Broadway shows and shopping, but walking around and soaking up all of Times Square’s crazy energy is completely free. 

9. The 9/11 Memorials

The 9/11 attacks are such an important part of New York’s recent history and the memorial in downtown Manhattan is a beautiful tribute to the victims that’s worth visiting on your trip.

The Memorial consists of the two reflection pools that are located at the original World Trade Centre sites. Around the pools, you’ll find the names of the victims engraved on the bronze panelling.

As you can imagine, it’s very poignant, but it is a lovely memorial that’s so well done. The 9/11 Museum is also in the area, as well as the Oculus, a shopping centre and train station that’s designed to look like a bird taking flight to symbolise hope in the aftermath of the attacks.

10. The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is a book lover’s dream.

Not only is this undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, with its amazing architecture and rows upon rows of books, but it’s also shrouded in history.

There’s even a free exhibition there right now that is completely free of charge and worth checking out.

In the Polonsky exhibition, you’ll find so many fascinating artefacts, from Charles Dickens’ writing desk to Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Declaration of Independence. The real Winnie The Pooh is even displayed there.

Are there any other free things to do in New York that you would add to this New York travel guide?

Love as always and happy adventuring… 

Frankie Higginson

I’m a 24 year old writer from Northern Ireland with a big love of all things travel and adventure. I recently just came back from living in New York City for a year (my biggest ‘fun fact’ that I will be milking for the rest of my life!). While I was there, not only did I explore the big apple but I also took the opportunity to see as much of the States as possible, usually on an intern’s budget, so I’ve got plenty of tips and tricks to share!

SEE MORE OF FRANKIES ADVENTURES



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